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Voice Is Not Dead: Bringing Back The Human Element In Our Communications A look at where consumers have migrated for vital communications during COVID-19 as proof.

By Temim Adwan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

This article has been built in collaboration with Young Arab Leaders, a not-for-profit organization founded by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, to develop the next generation of leaders in the Arab world through entrepreneurship, education, and employment.

Over the last five to ten years, enterprises have put much of their focus on digitizing their operational and customer service areas of their businesses. The goal has always been to minimize (and sometimes reduce) costs, whilst improving their customers' experience.

Digitization could be accomplished through acquiring advanced technology services, or by implementing streamlined processes. Whilst this concept was well-intentioned, many businesses have failed to ask their customers: in what way do they feel most comfortable interacting with their businesses?

A good example of this is when financial services institutions transitioned to mobile banking. That effort excluded those in the community who were less technologically literate, or perhaps simply preferred human interaction when dealing with their queries and requests. A mobile application can perform the basic functions of a retail staff member, but it cannot provide the personal interaction that a customer demands from a business.

Efforts to implement artificial intelligence (AI) driven chat bots have not had the desired impact, as consumers become frustrated with scripted answers, particularly when they know that the entity they're chatting with is created by lines of code, rather than flesh and bones. Chat bots have become a widely ignored for their lack of personalization.

Related: We're In This Together: Business Resources, Offers, And More For MENA Entrepreneurs To Get Through The Coronavirus Pandemic

During a crisis such as the current coronavirus outbreak, people naturally pivot toward a human response. Businesses and consumers alike are yearning for a return to a legacy technology that can often be overlooked when planning the digitization of an enterprise: the humble phone call. Statistics published to date during the COVID-19 pandemic indicate voice calls have increased by up to 40%. This is not a local phenomenon, rather a global trend.

In the past, customer contact centers were the key to customer service sectors. But in recent years, enterprises have tried to downsize operations and seek more cost-effective solutions for contact. And due to a combination of phone number spoofing, financial fraud, and other scams, consumers have lost confidence that their device will correctly report who is calling them. Businesses can also be targeted by bad actors who impersonate their business activities, and their credibility could be significantly diminished overnight if their brand is tarnished by such a deception.

Unfortunately, scammers target consumers and businesses when they are at their most vulnerable. This is especially concerning when we consider the increased telephone usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, as these scams have been quick to emerge globally. No country is immune to fraud behavior- from the US where scammers are trying to defraud people from their recently arrived Federal Government inked cheques, to the global myriad of scams purporting to sell and distribute PPE, antibody tests, and of course "miracle" vaccines.

What can the industry do to improve? I have been privy to and directly involved with telecom institutions and regulators who are reacting to and attempting to solve this fraud problem. In the U.S., regulators have introduced certificates for STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephony Infrastructure Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs) which enable each and every phone number to be ownership-certified within the network.

These verifiable certificates prevent bad actors from spoofing numbers, but the approach has not been globally adopted, and therefore will not combat international fraud. In addition, bad actors could still perpetrate fraud from a certified, originating number; while STIR/SHAKEN is a great first step, the technology does not deter those who are determined to persuade victims into releasing their money.

During my tenure at First Orion, we have developed and deployed scam/spam solutions for a variety of telecom companies, and in order to rebuild trust in phone calls, we recently introduced enhanced calling products for enterprises. With this type of technology, consumers no longer see an ambiguous 10-digit number appearing on their device; instead when they receive a phone call, they see the calling company's name and logo on their device, and know a legitimate institution is making the call.

This technology has enabled businesses such as Keno Car Wash (in the UAE) to use our platform for making secure and transparent phone calls to their customers. Customers know Keno is calling, so they answer the phone, and Keno verifies the service is delivered without losing time or money- all because of a trusted voice connection. Products that provide full transparency in communication give both enterprises and consumers a peace of mind.

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What can enterprises do to improve? Businesses who understand that consumers still want to communicate by voice (especially in our current, complex situation) can take steps to improve their connections. Enterprises must change the paradigm, and regain the trusted phone call narrative by assuring customers it is indeed them calling. A prime example in today's situation is when a hospital calls to return test results to people, they should eliminate all doubt about who is calling, so that person will answer the phone. There is no time for ambiguity or missed calls, when lives are at stake.

Imperative calls such as those from hospitals could be securely identified on the device as coming from the hospital, and clearly indicate the reason for the call, e.g. "Test Results" or "Health Services". First Orion calls this "enhanced calling technology" and offers it free of charge to critical industries and essential services in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This technology prevents opportunistic scammers from attempting to leverage charges from a victim while claiming to be someone they're not, such as a hospital or other imaginative schemes. Hospitals and their patients can regain a safe communications channel, and patients prefer this type of contact over receiving an impersonal notification.

My hope is for enterprises to at last realize, once this pandemic is over, that most consumers prefer a human connection, especially when the chips are down and the interaction is critical. And when that realization comes (and it will), we must be confident that the digital tools are in place so that all of us will be able to trust the phone calls we're receiving.

Voice is not dead- far from it. All we have to do is prevent scammers from being able to spoof numbers, allow businesses to identify themselves and the reason they're calling on the device display, and secure the brand's reputation from imposters by presenting their own brand image within the call. Once this is accomplished, the human voice will once again be a prominent business-to-consumer (B2C) communication method.

Hang the cost. The benefits to the business in customer satisfaction and brand engagement far outweigh the perceived efficiencies of digitization. We only need look to where consumers have migrated for vital communications during COVID-19 as proof.

Related: Rethinking Business: A Look At How Some Enterprises In Dubai Are Transforming Themselves In Response To the COVID-19 Pandemic

Temim Adwan

Member, Young Arab Leaders and Managing Director – MENA, First Orion

Temim Adwan, an active member of Young Arab Leaders, is the Managing Director of First Orion in the MENA region located in United Arab Emirates. First Orion is a leader in network enterprise solutions, call identification, and call management software, focusing on data-driven call transparency across the calling experience.The company helps its partners increase consumer satisfaction, reduce risk associated with fraud and compliance, and yield more profitable calling solutions.

Temim has operated in an executive role for more than 10 years, brokering deals in several sectors like energy, scrap metal trading, and refined products, and has been involved in multiple merger and acquisition activities. His representation of companies in the Middle East and Africa has played a direct role in achieving success for their operations. Temim holds a BA in business administration from London Metropolitan University and an MBA From Ecole Superieure de Gestion in Paris.

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